Instead of completing their residency training in rural areas like the Eastern Panhandle, young doctors tend to go to hospitals in bigger cities, where they later set up practice, officials said. The result is a shortage of doctors in rural areas.
Jefferson County has about 13 primary care doctors, some of whom are so busy that they are not accepting new patients, officials said.
When local authorities were planning the Bolivar Medical Center, academic officials questioned the effectiveness of training doctors in rural areas, said Dr. Konrad C. Nau, a Harpers Ferry, W.Va., physician and director of the new residency training program.
The Bolivar Medical Center has already bucked that thinking, according to Nau.
The rural residency training program has been training doctors at the nearby Harpers Ferry Family Medicine office.
Robert Sammel, one of two graduates this year, scored in the 90th percentile on the Family Practice National Training Exam after completing training at the Harpers Ferry office.
Physicians must pass the Family Practice National Training Exam before going into practice.
Sammel has announced plans to start a practice in Jefferson County, Nau said.
The other graduate this year was Hal Messec, who plans to set up a practice in Statesville, N.C., which does not have a hospital, said Nau.
"They give me hope that we will be successful in our mission," Nau told a group of about 100 people at the ceremony.
Gov. Cecil H. Underwood joined Nau, West Virginia University President David Hardesty and Robert D'Alessandri, dean of WVU's School of Medicine, at Wednesday's ceremony.
The officials stood on a newly poured concrete floor of the medical center and unveiled the center's cornerstone.
Underwood said he has always viewed the Eastern Panhandle as the state's outstretched arm, welcoming newcomers from the East.
"You certainly add another grip to that greeting," Underwood told the center's planners.
The $1.4 million facility being constructed by Jefferson Memorial Hospital is expected to be completed next June, said hospital spokeswoman Teresa McCabe.
The center will house Harpers Ferry Family Medicine, where Nau and three other doctors practice, and the Bolivar Pharmacy, a new retail pharmacy operated by Jefferson Memorial.
The center will have four physician consulting areas, eight examination rooms, four extra-large exam rooms, two procedure rooms, a cardiac testing room, a conference room and library, and other facilities. It is estimated the center will see up to 100 patients a day.